Trey Burke's career revival and New York's future

A bright spot in an otherwise dismal season, Trey Burke's career revival with the Knicks raises some interesting questions about how New York will proceed next season.

As a so-so scoring point guard for his first four years in the NBA, including a wholly disappointing stint with the Wizards last year, it was difficult to think that Trey Burke would bring anything fresh to New York's weak guard rotation when he was taken by the Knicks this year as a late-season pickup. The common thought around here was "at least he might be better than Ramon Sessions?"

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Well, never have I been more thrilled to proven so utterly wrong. Not only has Burke provided usefulness since his call-up from the Westchester G-League, he's been far and away the Knicks' best point guard this season. That might not seem like it's saying much given New York's point rotation of the elderly floor-general Jarrett Jack and a skittish but promising rookie in Frank Ntilikina, but Burke's recent performances when he's been inserted in the starting line-up have proven his career renaissance is no joke and that he has a serious claim in New York's future.

His 42 point, 12 assist explosion against Charlotte on a couple of weeks ago is a prime example of this, an incredible performance that somewhat flew under the radar due to the rookie Markelle Fultz playing his first game for the 76'ers on that same day. For some perspective, since the 1984 season, only four other players have tallied at least 42 points and 12 assists with less than 3 turnovers: Jordan, Iverson, Isaiah Thomas and Kevin Johnson.

This was no fluke either; as Burke had been teasing something like this all season. He had back-to-back 26 point outings with only 1 turnover against Boston and Orlando at the end of February, and an 18 points, 11 assists, zero turnover showcase against Denver barely a week after he was picked up by New York. A few days after his coming out party against Charlotte, he would loot the Pistons for 18 points and 15 assists, again only picking up 1 turnover. Now with 32 games played since his call-up from Westchester, his stats per 36 minutes currently sit at a very tasty 22 points and 8 assists on 52% shooting from the field. 

This is just too big a sample size to be put down to pure happenstance. After four humdrum years in the league, Trey Burke is putting it together in a big way.

The next big question is, how will he fit with the team going forward?

Many on the Knicks staff, including coach Jeff Hornacek and GM Scott Perry, have each made separate comments indicating that Frank Ntilikina is still very much a part of the New York's plan moving forward, highlighting his existing versatility as a defender along with his room to grow, both mentally and physically, as a 19-year-old player in the NBA. Even with his resurgence this year, it's unlikely that Ntilikina will be traded so as to completely turn the keys over to Burke. What's more likely, given how each player complements the other, is that the two will be used in tandem, with Ntilikina taking more of an off-ball role.

Frank, even as 19-year-old, is one of the best pick & roll defenders in the league, per Synergy Sports. When Frankie defends the ball handler in a P&R, he allows a stifling 0.64 points per possession scored. When opponents try to iso on the French Prince instead the outcome is only slightly better, with Ntilikina commanding 0.70 points per possession in that regard. If Ntilikina continues to hit the gym in the off-season and improve his fitness, his ability to switch on to multiple players and anchor the Knicks perimeter defense will continue to trend upward. 

But while Burke has shown dramatic improvement this season in scoring and dishing the ball, his defense is much the same as it has always been, which is average on good days and outright poor on others. This might not be the worst thing though, as likely Ntilikina will be asked to handle the lion's share of defensive effort while Burke, who exudes confidence in driving and scoring whereas Frank looks timid with the ball in his hands, will handle the responsibilities of the floor general. 

Ntilikina and Burke complement each other quite nicely, but until draft night, it will have yet to be determined whether either of them is the Knicks' point guard of the future. A lot of pre-drafts have New York selecting Trae Young with their pick, in which case you would have to assume Burke gets shifted to a sixth-man role (which he actually might be more suited for, given his suspect defence), with Young taking most of the starting minutes at point while Frank continues as an off-ball 2-guard.  If the Knicks take, say, Mikal Bridges to plug the hole at the small-forward position, then it's likely that they're hanging their hat on Ntilikina and Burke as the Knicks backcourt for years to come. 

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